PM Modi hints at lockdown extension as COVID-19 cases spurt; Delhi, UP declare coronavirus hotspots

New Delhi, April 8: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday (April 8) gave adequate hints that complete exit from the ongoing lockdown in one go is not possible as the country is facing a “social emergency” like situation due to coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

He also cited serious economic challenges in containing the spread of the deadly virus which showed a sharp spike taking the nationwide tally to over 5,600 cases with over 180 deaths.

“The situation in the country is akin to a social emergency…It has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant,” the prime minister told the leaders, according to an official statement.

PM Modi asserted that his government’s priority is to “save each and every life”, adding “The present situation is an epoch changing event in mankind’s history and we must evolve to counter its impact.” The Prime Minister is scheduled to interact with all chief ministers on April 11.

Several states indicated extension of the lockdown, at least in the areas identified as hotspots of the deadly virus spread. The Uttar Pradesh government today decided to completely seal off coronavirus hotspots in 15 districts to stop to the spread of the infection, announcing curfew-like restrictions there.

The Uttar Pradesh government embarked on these measures as the state’s coronavirus count reached 361 with 29 fresh cases being reported, while the death toll went up to four, with one more person succumbing to COVID-19.

The Delhi government has also sealed 20 COVID-19 hotspots in the capital to combat the spread of the novel virus. According to the government, the 20 hotspots include parts of Sangam Vihar, Malviya Nagar, and Jahangir Puri that have been notified as “containment areas” where people cannot go out of their houses and the government will ensure delivery of essential items.

Talking to reporters after a high-level meeting, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said, “Nobody will be allowed to enter or exit from these areas.”

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held the meeting with ministers and top officials to discuss measures to contain the COVID-19 spread.  Notably, the total number of coronavirus cases in the national capital rose to 576, with 51 fresh cases and two deaths being reported in a day, according to the Delhi Health Department.

Several states including Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Mumbai as well as Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, made wearing masks or face cover mandatory.

Karnataka, however, said that restrictions can be lifted in unaffected areas and the sale of liquor can be allowed after April 14 to help generate revenues to fight the crisis.

In Rajasthan, the state government decided to open mandis in a phased manner after the end of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, which entered its 15th day. The government also issued an advisory against the labelling of any community or area for the spread of COVID-19, as also against disclosure of names or addresses of those affected by the virus or under quarantine.

Uttarakhand and Goa joined several other states to favour extending the lockdown, while Punjab Government said it will take a call on April 10 on whether to extend the ongoing curfew in the state beyond April 14.

Earlier in the day, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said that states have been asked to focus on surveillance and contact tracing as well as on building hospital infrastructure, adding “We working with a twin approach — focusing on social distancing and then implementing containment measures.”

In its evening update, the Health Ministry stated that the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 5,274 and 149 have died. Earlier in the day, it had said the tally rose by 773 in 24 hours till Wednesday morning, the biggest increase in this time period.

New cases were also reported from Maharashtra (including in Mumbai’s densely-populated Dharavi slums), Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir, among other places.

Ladakh’s Lok Sabha member Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, however, said the virus spread has been successfully contained in the union territory, while Sikkim government said not a single case has been detected so far in the state.

Amid these developments, the Supreme Court today asked the government to issue directions for facilitating COVID-19 tests in government or private labs for free of cost. As per the latest update from the ICMR, more than 1.2 lakh tests have been conducted so far across the country.